Even when you consider that the Wolves were the home team and the Rockets were playing on zero nights rest, this was an unexpected win. When you consider how the Wolves went about winning it, it was absolutely shocking. Kevin Love is out recovering from hand surgery. Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger are out recovering from knee surgery. Nikola Pekovic is out with a leg injury. Alexey Shved is out with a sprained ankle. Dante Cunningham missed tonight’s game with an illness.
Is there anyone left?
It turns out there is. Ricky Rubio continues to take baby steps on his journey back to star point guard play. He scored 7 points efficiently, assisted 6 times compared to 2 turnovers, and frustrated Houston with defensive peskiness. Derrick Williams, bloopers and feet-shuffling traveling violations aside, chipped in 11 points. J.J. Barea’s ball dominance was painful to watch, but his 11 points and 3 assists helped keep the lead while he was forced to carry a lineup devoid of other dribblers. Andrei Kirilenko was a star, scoring 21 points on 8-11 shooting, pulling down 11 rebounds on a night when they were hard to come by, and forcing turnovers with 3 steals.
But tonight was about the new guys. Mickael Gelabale and especially Chris Johnson, stole the show. Each signed a 10-day contract just hours before tonight’s game. Each was an integral part of tonight’s Winning Time that saw the Wolves extend what was a 4-point lead after the 3rd Quarter into a commanding, 13-point victory before the Target Center crowd desperate for something positive. Johnson scored the first 8 points of the 4th Quarter. He corralled offensive rebounds (3 in 18 minutes; 6 total rebounds) converted free throws after drawing fouls, and finished Rubio dimes for huge flushes. In 18 minutes, Johnson scored 15 points on 4-4 shooting (7-8 free throws) and pulled down 6 rebounds. He blocked 1 shot and closely contested several others. He was, inexplicably it seems, a star during the game’s biggest moments.
On to Mickael Gelabale. The other newbie. In the middle of the 4th Quarter, after Chris Johnson’s burst of points, Gelabale scored 10 of his own points in a less-than-3-minute stretch of fun. He was catching passes from Rubio and calmly finishing around the hoop. His final bucket was a catch-and-shoot jumper from the corner; his foot on the line keeping it to just 2 points but the action signaling something repeatable in future games. Along with solid offense, Gelabale spent time defending superstar James Harden. With help from Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Rubio, and Kirilenko, Gelabale held The Beard to 18 points on unusually-inefficient 5 for 18 shooting. Remember how badly Harden tore the Wolves apart during last game’s Winning Time? That didn’t happen tonight, and Gelabale was a reason why.
I don’t want to act too excited or newly optimistic here. This was, after all, the Rockets’ seventh consecutive loss. They’re struggling. To make matters worse for them tonight, Omer Asik missed much of the game with foul trouble. He played just 16 minutes, putting up a 2 & 5 line. Also, the Rockets couldn’t buy a basket. In the 1st Half, many of these misses were of the wide-open jumper variety.
But whatever, those are details and some of those struggles were Timberwolves-forced. It’s fun to win any game, let alone one with the feel-good stories of these new players vying for permanent jobs in The Association. For the short–maybe medium?–term, Gelabale provides a longer body at the wing that seems able to catch and finish passes from Rubio for points. Johnson flushes alley-oop passes, pulls down high rebounds, and plays (for one night anyway!) incredibly efficient basketball. Let’s not start making projections about who these guys are, because we obviously have no idea.
(Fights urge to make Chris Johnson comparisons…)
Gah, fine. To Twitter…
Let’s just hope, for now, that he’s a player that can help the Wolves grind out wins until they get healthy. If that day ever comes.
Season Record: 17-20